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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

    

Scandal

by
Endo Shusaku


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Scandal



Title: Scandal
Author: Endo Shusaku
Genre: Novel
Written: 1986 (Eng. 1988)
Length: 261 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Scandal - US
Scandal - UK
Scandal - Canada
Scandale - France
Skandal - Deutschland
Scandalo - Italia
Escándalo - España
  • Japanese title: スキャンダル
  • Translated by Van C. Gessel

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Our Assessment:

A- : an accomplished, unsettling work

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph . 23/4/1988 John Milne
The Independent . 22/4/1988 Robert Winder
Independent on Sunday A 21/5/2006 Laurence Phelan
London Rev. of Books . 19/5/1988 Walter Nash
The LA Times A 13/11/1988 Thomas Cahill
The NY Times Book Rev. D 28/8/1988 Charles Newman
The Spectator . 23/4/1988 Francis King
Sunday Telegraph . 24/4/1988 Gabriele Annan
Sunday Times . 24/4/1988 Peter Kemp
TLS . 29/4/1988 Louis Allen


  From the Reviews:
  • "What seems faulty about this (Endo's) line of reasoning is that it promotes storytelling to a crypto-sacramental level -- too rich for this Englishman's blood." - John Milne, Daily Telegraph

  • "(I)n some ways Endo's most remarkable novel (.....) If Scandal amounted to no more than a corny Freudian parable about smouldering embers and the irrepressible id, we could all go home at this point. But just when it seems to subsiding into this well-travelled groove, Endo performs a series of small textual miracles" - Robert Winder, The Independent

  • "Although it was one of Shusaku Endo's last novels, Scandal would be a sensible starting place for anyone newly discovering Endo (.....) (W)ith its unsettling, dreamlike mood, playful self-referentiality and ingeniously engineered plot mechanics (...) Scandal might more usefully be compared to one of Paul Auster's metaphysical detective stories." - Laurence Phelan, Independent on Sunday

  • "The plausibility of this impossibility is a little frayed at the edges, but it is a good enough cloak for a spiritual excursion. And that is all it is -- a cloak, a guise. (...) The book very quickly ceases to be thrilling, perhaps because anyone with a reasonable measure of literary competence can see what the solution has to be. There is some question, raised no doubt with the aim of keeping the reader in a healthily irresolute state, as to whether the doppelgänger experience is a physical or metaphysical reality: but Endo's heart, one senses, is not really in the working-out at different levels of a notion that is no more than a vehicle for his observations on the nature of evil." - Walter Nash, London Review of Books

  • "This is a book about perversion. It is stark, spare, and compulsively readable. (...) It would be unfair, given such a plot, to divulge the resolution, for, although this is something more than a mystery story, it is surely nothing less than that. But it is a mystery that works on three levels -- the narrative (or old-fashioned plot) level, the psychological level (the mystery of human motivation and dreams), and the moral level. (...) Endo has written greater novels than Scandal (.....) But never has he combined profundity with entertainment to such a degree, for a good mystery cannot fail to entertain. (One can imagine the story as a successful film.) And never has this most Western and approachable of Japanese novelists shown us more fully his Japanese self" - Thomas Cahill, The Los Angeles Times

  • "I wish I could say that Scandal reads more interestingly than this summary. One can speculate endlessly on the intractability of translation, read cultural difference into opaque prose, wonder how a Japanese audience will react to what seems, on the face of it, to be a rather severe indictment of national character. I am in no position to judge the accuracy of the translation, but I simply refuse to believe that a writer regarded so highly in Japan, and translated into more than 20 languages, would permit himself such bone-crushing infelicities (.....) Nevertheless, the central problem of the novel can hardly be attributed to the translator when the narrator apparently believes that the debate between appearance and reality was begun only in the last few years, and insists on illustrating his protagonist's every insight with banal citations of the most obvious Western classics (.....) Scandal, in its English version, can only finally invite a querulous incredulity." - Charles Newman, The New York Times Book Review

  • "A familiar story ? Yet one would guess that Shusaku Endo -- not merely one of the best of living Japanese novelists but one of the best novelists in the world -- has based this haunting book, part psychological thriller and part allegory, on his own experience, not Jeffrey Archer's. (...) It is a remarkable work, conveying, as though by lurid flashes of lightning, that Suguro, if not his creator, is a man not merely near the end of his life but near the end of his spiritual tether." - Francis King, The Spectator

  • "This is a very strange novel. Spine chilling, erotic, cruel,; full of intellectual games, sickly sentiment, ontological set pieces, and unction. (...) It feels "written from the head"' (.....) Still, it's very powerful. It needed to be, otherwise the stranglehold of the English translation might have proved terminal." - Gabriele Annan, Sunday Telegraph

  • "(I)t stays weirdly personal. With Endo extending the parallels between himself and his protagonist (even to the point of their both writing a novel called Scandal), something self-scourging seems to be going on." - Peter Kemp, Sunday Times

  • "The latest (very stilted) translation of Shusaku Endo (.....) (T)he shift of the central figure from his foundations of custom and intellectual comfort is stronger here. It has links with a Lawrentian life force, and with de Sade's unleashing of appetite. But what strikes in Scandal is the awareness that this volcanic power which appropriates the individual is not the trite Christian "sin" (something containable), or even the sense of betrayal so deeply etched in Silence or The Samurai, but an irresistible flood of evil, a demon rather than a daemon" - Louis Allen, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Scandal is centered entirely on Suguro, an author who is beginning to feel his age -- past sixty-five now, the story opens with him getting a medical check-up, and he has several more over the course of the novel -- but who is still at the height of his career. Indeed, at the beginning of the novel he receives yet another literary award, for his latest work, and everything seems to be going right:

The harmony he had finally been able to achieve with this recent work, both in his life and in his writings, was deeply satisfying.
       That harmony doesn't last, however, quickly upset by events at the ceremony. First, there's the glimpse of something unsettling:
Behind Kurimoto and this woman he saw another face.
    Suguro blinked. It was, indisputably, his own face. It wore an expression that could be taken either as a grin or a sneer.
    He blinked several more times. There was no one standing behind the two editors.
       And then a woman approaches him, treating him familiarly and claiming she knows him from Shinjuku -- and claiming that: "You do some very naughty things on that street, Sensei" -- though he does not recognize her (or frequent seedy places in Shinjuku).
       These events shake him badly -- and keep him shaking. It becomes clear that:
Something had intruded itself into Suguro's life on the night of the awards ceremony, and the internal machinery that had run in smooth synchronization up until then abruptly ran amok.
       As events progress he comes to realize: "The only certain thing was that something had changed inside him since that awards ceremony".
       Suguro is an Endo-like figure -- having enjoyed similar success, and noted for his Christian faith and the role it plays in his fiction; like Endo he's also, for example, written a Life of Christ (and, near the novel's conclusion, tells his editor about the novel he is planning next, noting: "I'm going to call it Scandal: An Old Man's Prayer").
       Among the things that Suguro supposedly did was to have his portrait painted, and he is invited to a gallery to see it, and he eventually ventures to check it out. The picture, The Face of Mr. S, does resemble him -- "the face was certainly his" -- but there's more to it too, "something lewd and excessive". And Suguro has no recollection of having let himself be sketched or painted .....
       When he goes to the gallery, he meets a Mrs. Naruse, a hospital volunteer who happens to visit the gallery at the same time; Suguro approaches her in the coffee shop she goes into afterwards and starts a conversation. When he introduces himself she tells him: "Oh, I'm very familiar with your name and your writing". She becomes a sort of bridge between Suguro's familiar world and that where this portrait was created -- someone willing to push at boundaries, and to push at the very structure of the world Suguro's has built up and carefully maintains, one of comfortable domesticity -- he's happily married, with a grown son now living abroad -- and regulated work routine (complete with attentive editor and a comfortable office that he goes to daily to do his writing).
       Suguro acknowledges that his work has a kind of dark side, agreeing in a television interview when the host suggests:
"In fact, the heroes in all of your novels seem to be people who are suffocated by the lives they lead. They writhe in agony in that stifling condition until they end up committing sin."
     "That's right. My protagonists groan in torment and ultimately wind up committing sin."
       So of course one can expect much the same here -- but Endo takes the story a step further. Facing his antagonist -- or is he just confronting himself ? -- he spins out his failing, his other self pointing out:
     All right, I'll grant you've written about sins that yield to salvation, as all of your beloved Christian writers have done. But you've avoided writing about that other realm.
     What other realm ?
     Evil. Sin and evil aren't the same thing. It's evil that you've ignored.
       Suguro is annoyed by the bubbling rumors that he's been up to unsavory things in the seedier parts of town, but they become impossible to ignore. He investigates, and it's clear that someone who at the least bears a strong resemblance to him has been up to some very depraved things. Colleagues and his publishers are concerned; his reputation could suffer -- especially since he is held to certain standards, as a Christian author. A journalist, Kobari, has latched onto the story and seems determined to prove that Suguro is a fraud; he really has it in for him -- he considers Suguro "the epitome of the pseudo-literati in Japan" -- and wants to unmask him.
       Suguro comes to believe that he does have some sort of Doppelgänger -- and tries to track him, and what he's done, leading Suguro to some unpleasant discoveries. It's a world that is foreign to him, and baffles him -- but he continues down that trail .....
       Sex -- and some fairly perverted sexual practices -- play a significant role. Mrs. Naruse mentioned to Suguro that:
I feel as though our erotic behavior expresses our profoundest secrets, the ones we ourselves aren't aware of.
       Suguro sense there's something to that, particularly in his present state. But does he want to uncover those secrets ? Mrs. Naruse continues to play a role, facilitating his getting in touch with this other ( buried ?) side of himself, challenging him to, for once, confront it -- as she observes that:
You always just sit back and listen to what people say, Sensei, you never act on your own. You don't even drink. Even when you write, you don't go all the way to the very end. You never hurt anybody ... you just run away.
       Is Endo Suguro willing to go to the very end here ? And is that really a good idea ?
       Suguro tells his editor that the Scandal he wants to write will be something different from his usual work:
     I want to shake the foundations of the literature I have built up over the years, to find out whether the whole thing will collapse or not.
       Endo's Scandal would seem to do that. Its protagonist is a grand old man of Japanese letters, a significant figure in the literary scene and playing the role expected of him. He has some concerns about his health, and there are reminders of impending mortality, but mostly he tries to go through the usual motions of his life and work. The double he is haunted by does unsettle his routine, and leads him to venture beyond his usual boundaries, but for the most part his life remains fairly clearly delineated. His marriage is a solid one, and though there are some underlying tensions with his wife here, Suguro tries to maintain the familiar normality of his rather boring life.
       Suguro does have some vivid dreams -- his subconscious pushing to the fore -- while the double who haunts him leads him to question even more about himself and a side of himself that he isn't sure he wants to recognize or acknowledge. His colleagues and publisher are concerned about the double -- or whatever the truth behind the sightings of Suguro is -- but for them its mainly about saving face and maintaining Suguro's reputation; they don't really care one way or another what the truth about this is. Suguro seems more ambivalent about his reputation and saving face: his concern about what is going on is much deeper (and can not be as easily assuaged or fixed).
       Scandal is an odd and ultimately deeply disturbing novel. Characters are pushed to shocking extremes here -- all the more disturbing because of the sense of normality otherwise surrounding them. Mrs. Naruse is at the heart of much of this -- pulling the strings to some of these events -- but she's also a comforting hospital volunteer, typical of suggesting the different sides of people, if more starkly dark and light than most. Suguro has a much more difficult time confronting things head-on -- or acknowledging a different side of himself -- than she does, but she certainly pushes him towards trying to face his true, or full, self.
       Scandal is an odd mix of restraint and the shockingly explicit (all the more so jarring because of the general restraint of the narrative). It is effective -- mirroring Suguro's own difficulty with confronting the darker side he worries he harbors within --, making for what really does amount to a horror story of sorts: it is hardly typical of the genre, yet much of its power is comes from creatively-used horror-tropes, from the mysterious double-figure to the devastating closing paragraph (straight out of horror 101).
       Some of the characters in Scandal are a bit too simple in their presentation -- notably the annoying journalist -- and the overlap of some of them, and various incidents (notably around Mrs. Naruse -- whose hospital volunteering inspires Suguro's wife, among other things), can seem a bit too unlikely. Nevertheless, Endo manages to weave a neat, strong work with them -- not least in how the secondary characters (especially his colleague, Kanō, and a middle-school girl he hires to help clean his office) are used in the story.
       Scandal feels very personal -- with Endo not so much struggling with his own demons but with the box he feels he (and his writing) have been put in. He certainly achieves some shock-value here, but Scandal is more than just that. Some of what is recounted is (very) off-putting, but it's never gratuitous; it's certainly a novel that challenges expectations (especially of those familiar with Endo's previous work) -- and does so in interesting and effective ways.
       Some might find it a bit hard to take, but Scandal is an impressive novel.

- M.A.Orthofer, 3 May 2020

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Links:

Scandal: Reviews: Other books by Endo Shusaku under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Catholic Japanese author Endo Shusaku (Endō Shūsaku, 遠藤周作) lived 1923 to 1996.

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© 2020 the complete review

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